Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Day One and the Missoula Master Plan

Actually its day three of being car-free, but I don’t think anyone is really counting. I really screwed up by relaxing all through spring break when the weather was miserable, now that its nice, I’ve got too much to do to enjoy the weather.

The Missoula Downtown Master Plan is once again in the news as the final language is being set and the city council starts the long process of overhauling zoning ordinances to make the Plan an eventual reality. The zoning rewrite will most likely be a long process, but already a few points are causing some controversy.

ADUs are part of the called for zoning changes. What are ADUs? Additional Dwelling Units, basically they allow for a second dwelling to be built on a residential lot, like an above garage apartment, or what is sometimes called a mother-in-law house. These allow for affordable housing to be supplied in neighborhoods with high property values and for homeowners to have an additional sources of income. Both the Indy and the blog Missoulapolis have good takes on the issues.

Some neighborhoods already have these as part of their zoning, like the area just across Brooks from the Vietnam Memorial Park. The new zoning would expand the area where these are allowed and make them easier to be built. Right now ADUs must go through a process of approval before they can be built.

Those opposed to ADUs claim they are worried about the “character” of a neighborhood and the density that they may bring with them. I may be wrong, but what I hear is that people don’t want those with lower incomes mixing into their nice, high income neighborhoods while also worrying about what ADUs might do to other people’s property values.

ADUs are a good way to create affordable housing, and how could the ability to earn money from rent hurt property values? The density increase would be miniscule, adding an additional 1-3 people per residential lot, and its not like every lot would suddenly sprout ADUs. This type of infill would also make greater use of the alleyways that currently only serve as access to garages and trash cans.

Jane Jacobs in her book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, concentrates a great deal of her time to explaining what makes up a good working neighborhood. The key comes down to having a variety of activities throughout the day and a mixture of users. ADUs will create safer neighborhoods by placing more eyes on the streets at various times of day when right now their might not be any. This would happen because the people living in ADUs would most likely live on a different schedule from those living in the main houses.

The reality is that this is an issue of how we, as a community, want to accommodate future growth. Missoula already has a large problem when it comes to supplying affordable housing, so do we want to continue to build large apartment complexes full of low and middle income residents on the edge of town, like those built in the last few years around North Reserve? This creates an additional problem of forcing people who have less means to afford commuting to have longer commutes.

We have a choice to make do we want development to occur on the edge of town, or do we want to concentrate on infill. If we continue to grow outwards, large developers, retiring farmers, and the construction industry win out big, but Missoula will lose valuable farm land, open space, and wildlife habitat that helps to make Missoula a great place to live, while taking more money from taxpayers for infrastructure, increasing congestion, and pollution. If we choose infill, we get to keep the overall character of Missoula, keep the open spaces we love so much for recreation, and create a more walkable community while giving homeowners the ability to invest in their own property to provide a better income and home for Missoula residents not lucky enough to afford a home.

1 comment:

Daniel said...

I think you are right on with the benefits of ADUs. It's funny, because Charlottesville has actually been debating these as well. I wrote about them for work here.

Cville instituted ADUs about 5 years ago, as a way to allow density in some areas. However, there have been certain restrictions all attached to the ADUs all along, and right now there is a push to increase the level of restriction (people are worried about excessively large units, etc.) The trouble is that if ADUs become too restrictive most homeowners (these are all created by private individuals) will not bother going through the whole process - esp. if there is a risk of losing on the investment.

ADUs are great, particularly for college towns. They've worked out quite well in Cville over the last year. We actually live in one, and it's a good experience.

Bookmark and Share